The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Replanted Flowers (Symbol)

Before Parvana leaves Kabul with her father, she uproots a bunch of wildflowers and attempts to replant them in the spot she once occupied at the market. She intends the flowers to signal to the woman who lives behind the blacked-out window that she has left and won't return. However, men and boys gather to cast doubt on whether the flowers will survive in the dry, hard-packed earth. One man encourages Parvana, insisting that the flowers may look withered but their roots are strong. The flowers come to symbolize the uncertain future Parvana and her family face themselves. Relocating from Kabul will tire and test them, but they must have faith that they'll be strong enough to put down new roots somewhere else.

Surprise Trinkets (Motif)

When Parvana works at her father's usual spot in the Kabul market, trinkets sporadically fall into her lap or on her head. She learns that these surprise gifts are coming from the unknown woman who lives behind a small blacked-out window. Though Parvana and the woman never meet, the motif of the surprise trinkets establishes a relationship between the two, a reminder that there are thousands of women who are never allowed to leave the home.

Parvana's Shalwar Kameez (Symbol)

The shalwar kameez is a type of traditional Afghan clothing that consists of a long tunic and loose pants. They can be beautifully embroidered for formal occasions or simple and plain for everyday wear. Parvana loves her vibrant red shalwar kameez dearly, and is outraged when her mother decides they must sell it. However, the haggling Parvana engages in at the market to sell the garment satisfies her to such a degree that she is able to overcome some of her sentimental attachment. This makes the garment a symbol of her old life. As she watches the red cloth leave the market, Parvana watches her childhood innocence disappear.

Sibling Friction (Motif)

One of the novel's dominant motifs is the friction between Parvana and her older sister, Nooria. While Parvana envies Nooria for her beauty and what she sees as privileges Nooria has because of her age, Nooria talks down to Parvana, teasing her and commanding her to do chores. But the tension between the siblings eases as the narrative progresses. As the sisters' reluctant dependence on each other comes to look more like cooperation, Parvana sees no need to fight with her sister. Ultimately, Parvana is sad to see her go off to get married.

Hossain's Clothes (Symbol)

To disguise herself as a boy, Parvana dons her deceased brother's clothing, which have, until then, existed as a symbol of pain for the family and a reminder of their loss. When Parvana puts the clothes on, they are far too big, but she is excited to have pockets, which her own clothes lacked. The moment symbolizes Parvana stepping into an uncomfortable and unwanted role as the family's breadwinner; ultimately, she will learn she is far more capable of embracing the responsibility than she could have known.